Marine Salmon Aquaculture Has a Great Future if Done Properly

Cermaq is a Norwegian aquaculture company that is proposing salmon farms in four locations, including Mahone Bay and St. Margaret’s Bay. The proposal has prompted some energetic dissent, much of which is ill-informed.

First a bit of global context. The world’s population continues to grow in numbers and prosperity. As people’s incomes rise they consume more and more meat and fish. The world’s population doubled in the last fifty years. The consumption of animal protein quadrupled.

Farmed fish has been important to meeting that demand, rising from almost nothing to more than 15% of the total today, higher than beef’s share.

Rapidly growing global production of farmed Atlantic salmon reached approximately 2.6 million metric tons in 2019. Leading producers include Chile, Norway, Scotland, and the Faroe Islands.

A group called the Twin Bays Coalition is campaigning against the Cermaq initiative. Their arguments, if accepted, would point to shutting down the entire global industry for marine-based farmed salmon.

To their credit, they have taken down a page of their website that was replete with incorrect stale-dated material. The site nevertheless conveys an inaccurate picture of the industry. Some important facts:

  1. The aquaculture industry is subject to food safety regulation in the same way as agricultural products. Salmon is viewed by doctors and nutritionists as better for you than red meat.
  2. Salmon may contact Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA). If that happens the fish in that pen must be removed to protect both wild and farmed salmon. Until 2016 they were destroyed and the grower compensated. Those fish are now processed for human consumption with no compensation for the grower. ISA represents zero risk to human health. Consuming affected fish is much more environmentally responsible than dumping them on land or at sea.
  3. The former NDP government loaned $18 million to Cooke Aquaculture, of which $14 million is still owed. Cooke has repaid $2.3 million and earned another $1.7 million by job creation. Cooke has 205 employees in Nova Scotia.
  4. It is possible for aquaculture operators to get government support for research projects.

  5. Fish farms have been around for many years including sites near the prime lobster areas on the south shore. Lobster fishermen have had a series of excellent years while fish farms have continued to grow.
  6. According to Cermaq “The pellets we feed our salmon contain both plant-based (about 70 percent) and animal-based ingredients (about 30 percent). The conversion ratio is 1.2 pounds of feed for 1 pound of salmon.” Of the animal-based ingredients, more than 40% of fishmeal requirements and almost 60% of fish oil are sourced from trimmings. So perhaps 180 grams of sustainably caught wild fish are needed to produce one kilogram of farmed salmon.
  7. The very efficient conversion ratio will have the added benefit of a much-reduced volume of feces from the farmed fish.
  8. The former NDP government put a moratorium on new sites before the 2013 election. The duly elected new government commissioned the highly consultative Doelle-Lahey report in 2014 and took a further three years to reopen the industry to growth under new regulations.

    Those were informed by that report, though not to the extent wished for by environmental groups such as the Ecology Action Centre. That is how democracy works.
  9. A company called Sustainable Blue has developed a small land-based facility that eliminates some of the challenges faced by marine-based farms.

    Compared to $12 a pound for marine-based salmon at Superstore this week, its fillets cost $23 per pound ($21 for frozen). At that price, it will never be more than a small niche product. Sustainable Blue advises that in its feed “all of the proteins and fats come from sustainable marine sources.”
  10. Open pen farms are an important economic driver for rural Nova Scotia. Cooke, the dominant current player, has 205 employees in Nova Scotia and is an important buyer for hundreds of small businesses. It has substantial growth plans. When fully developed Cermaq’s project would create 300+ jobs and corresponding spinoff benefits.

That is not to say that there are no issues. Some of the salmon farms prior to the new regulations had avoidable problems, particularly with the choices of locations.

It is difficult to find a suitable site. It needs to be a respectful distance from residences, away from places much used by boaters, having enough flow to eliminate waste, and protected from heavy wave and wind damage.

Farmed salmon can represent risks to wild salmon, although the rivers within those two bays have weak or non-existent runs, so interactions would be infrequent.

The Ecology Action Centre does not support open net-pen salmon aquaculture in any form but would be less unhappy if the regulations had precisely followed the Doelle-Lahey recommendations.

Their opposition to Cermaq, like that of the authors of the Twin Bays website, will be driven primarily by dissatisfaction with the regulatory environment, not the particulars of the Cermaq proposal.

Cermaq should not be given a carte blanche. They are required by regulation to consult communities. They should be allowed to make their case in the context of the new regulatory environment and given the opportunity to respond to concerns. The most useful and effective response for concerned citizens is to engage constructively with the process.

Properly done marine salmon aquaculture can be a valuable response to the world’s growing appetite for protein.


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